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Thursday, April 9, 2015
Moving day saw the trio hefting boxes up the stairs. Aroma was in back, wearing a green dress with a shiny top and a plain, leafy skirt, separated by a narrow band of gold. She was also wearing green stockings, dress slippers shined to match her top, and the gloves that Theira bought her yesterday. Instead of a hat, she tied a leafy green bow near her right temple.
A few feet in front of Aroma, Thiera had on a plain, loose white dress that reached down to her ankles, with a blue shawl and matching cloth belt. As usual, her healing did fast work, and she lacked so much as a red mark. Aroma doubted very much that any of the burn victims were left with more than occasional stinging.
A good 3 paces ahead of them, Euryale was wearing a red dress, slightly longer than normal, with a gold cloth belt. To complement this, she also had a matching pair of bracelets and a necklace with a fanlike pattern, resembling rays of sunshine. Fearing her stab wound might reopen, Aroma kept asking her to carry one of her small boxes of odds and ends, such as her evening gloves, hats, or sewing fabrics.
"I'm sorry we had to cancel our dinner," Thiera said, tilting her head to look back at Aroma out of the corner of her eye.
"I'm sorry too, but it's not your fault," Aroma replied.
"So, did the Purist Leader say anything that might have given away how long she'd planned that attack for?" Euryale chimed in.
"Well..." Aroma began, scrunching her brow as she searched her memory, "...When I asked her how she knew we weren't being protected anymore, she DID say that she just got impatient. But she also took kind of a tone with me."
"A tone of sarcasm?" Euryale asked.
"I'm not really sure," Aroma replied.
Euryale sighed. "So we don't really know anything at all. I'm beginning to notice a pattern—do you think even she knows how she thinks?"
"Well, that shouldn't happen again, right?" Thiera asked hopefully. "After all, we're back under protection now."
"Yeah," Euryale agreed, "And the Council won't dare retract it again after the first PR fiasco."
"There's something I've been meaning to ask," Aroma started nervously, "Thiera told me that a nonbending patient escaped the Purist Leader's attack. Did you ever find out what happened to him?"
"Yes," Euryale answered, "He managed to escape while the first responders were occupied fighting the Purists.
Aroma breathed a sigh of relief. "That's good."
"That was a ridiculously long staircase," Euryale noted. She then balanced the box she was carrying on her knee in order to open the door to their new apartment. Readjusting her grip, she headed inside, Aroma and Thiera following. The trio set their load on the floor beside the doorway and stepped right back out—there wasn't much to see anyway, as none of their furniture had been set up yet.
"I'm sorry, Euryale," Aroma began slowly, rubbing her arms, "About your friends."
"Don't mention it," Euryale said in a stifled voice, "I'm just sorry you had to see all of that."
"I'm just glad for what I didn't see," Aroma noted. If the Purists who got torched weren't wearing masks, their faces would have probably joined the taxi driver's in her nightmares.
"Yeah, well, lock the door on your way out," Euryale ordered. "Please. We've gotta meet Thiera's mom."
"Why do you phrase it that way?" Thiera asked.
Euryale just shrugged. "We've gotta take the truck back and pick up my car, first. Then up to Yue Bay, right?"
"Correct," Thiera answered.
"I don't mean to offend," Euryale began, "But how much does your mother really know about combat?"
Aroma bowed to signal the elevator operator, a husky man with receding brown hair offset by a bushy mustache, to open the doors. She wished him a good morning as they entered and he graciously returned the sentiment.
Thiera frowned, but answered, "Mom is a master of Northern Water Style, trained in the Master Pakku Memorial Academy."
"Impressive," Euryale conceded, "But it doesn't sound like she has experience beyond training."
"Most people don't," Thiera countered, turning towards her as the doors rattled to a close. "Are we going to start arguing again already?"
Euryale took a step back, raising her hands. "I'm sorry, it's just that the Purists are hardened criminals, used to fighting against Triads. So maybe a police instructor would be better."
"Do you have any police instructors with Mom's credentials?" Thiera asked.
"No," Euryale sighed in resignation, just before the elevator lurched upwards. She smirked slightly when Aroma and Thiera each grabbed the nearest wall. Once the ride was over, the Healers staggered out, Aroma pausing to bow to the attendant.
Euryale followed along with the kind of upright swagger Chin the Conqueror was famous for. "Shouldn't you be used to elevators by now?" She asked, giving a jaunty little wave to the operator, but looking at Aroma and Thiera.
"How do you keep your balance with them jerking around like that?" Aroma asked, her and Thiera still fumbling along the walls.
"Staying rooted is Earthbending 101," Euryale pointed out.
"Oh," she said slowly, "Hey, is it just me, or is there only 1 door in this hallway?"
"Yes," Thiera answered, looking back. "Mom lives in the penthouse." Straightening herself out, she pushed a button and was greeted by a grainy recording of a tsugi horn melody.
Aroma mumbled along, "Leaves through the vine...falling so slow...."
Euryale folded her arms. "So...your mom's loaded?"
"It isn't as though she's a Varrick or a Sato," Thiera protested, "She just saved up from years of Healing."
"Coming where?" Euryale asked.
"I didn't say anything," Thiera pointed out, "That was Mom."
"Oh. That would make a lot more sense."
The chain lock rattled and Mrs. Psyche opened the door, revealing that her voice wasn't the only thing she shared with Thiera. She was only an inch or 2 taller, with the same moderate build and the same alabaster skin. It was also clear where Thiera got her oceanic eyes and unusual golden hair, though Mrs. Psyche's hair had only faint remnants of its color remaining. Though her hair was almost white and she had faint lines at the corners of her lips and eyes, she couldn't have been that old, perhaps in her 40's or 50's.
She opened the door wider, stepping back to allow the girls to enter. They could see that she was wearing a body-hugging blue satin top with a faintly shimmering wave pattern that left her arms bare, offset by a scarf which matched her tight, black pants.
Eurale and Aroma folded their hands at their waists. Thiera turned slightly to gesture to each of them in turn. "Euryale, Aroma, this is my mom—Master Binah Psyche." The duo then bowed, Aroma going slightly lower.
"Please, there's no need to be so formal. I haven't taken on an official student in years. You're here because you're friends of the family."
"Is it more than just you 2?" Euryale asked.
"My husband, Sujin, and our oldest, Lilith, are away on assignment with the United Forces."
"It isn't a problem. Please, come in."
The landing opened up directly onto a spacious living room, where the Water Tribe aesthetic continued with a rug depicting a detailed mural of a churning sea, each twisting wave adorned with a crest of white foam—of course they removed their shoes before they stepped on it—over oak floors that shimmered golden. An L-shaped black couch and a trio of matching armchairs dominating the left side of the room, a radio sitting on a circular glass table between them. The room's right side eventually gave way to sliding glass doors, which opened up on some kind of balcony.
At the back of the room, an archway headed off to parts unknown, flanked on either side by wall hangings depicting the Northern and Southern capitols. The walls were white, but incorporated flecks of something that shimmered gold when the sun hit them. Up above was a silver-colored chandelier, shaped vaguely like a snowflake, with 6 light bulbs—of course, they were off at the moment, no need for them as the afternoon sun danced and dazzled around the room.
Taking all of this in, Euryale let out a little whistle. "Nice place you've got here."
"Thank you. Thiera, would you please lead our guests to the pool while I prepare them some tea?"
"That sounds delicious," Aroma informed Binah. "Thank you."
Binah nodded and set off. Once she was gone, Aroma glanced around nervously before turning to Thiera with a frown. She asked, "We aren't getting IN the pool, are we?"
"Don't worry, I asked Euryale to bring your bathing suit. You aren't really dressed to learn waterbending anyway."
"But I'm not—"
"I realize that you aren't a literal waterbender, but learning how to deflect and unbalance attackers will still be quite useful for you. Here, let me lead you to the bathroom."
After a quick change, Aroma found herself standing on Binah's deck wearing nothing but her leotard-style bathing suit, which was mainly forest green, but with vertical yellow pinstripes set an inch apart. Beside her, Thiera was wearing a bathing suit of a similar design, of course all white.
Behind them, Euryale walked over to a round table with plastic chairs. She was sporting a red bikini top with matching thigh-high skirt. Soon after, Binah slid open the glass doors and crossed over to Euryale. On the table, she set a silvery platter with plain white cups and a matching kettle and bowl of sugar, a silver serving spoon inside of the bowl. The one thing that didn't match was a red canister, a little larger than Binah's thumb and roughly the same shape, which she picked up as the girls clustered around.
"Of course!" Euryale exclaimed, pointing at the object, "The Purists stored the fuel for their fire tossers in an aerosol can! Like this one, only bigger, and not made out of metal."
"Well," Binah began, looking to her a bit warily after her sudden outburst, "I assure you that this one is made out of aluminum, and it contains a type of pepper spray that I mixed for Aroma." She gestured to the bowing nonbender, placing the can into her outstretched hands.
"An aerosol can made of plastic would have to be unusually strong," Thiera noted between sips of tea, "It would be a very advanced polymer."
"Still cheaper than platinum," Euryale explained, before gulping down her own drink.
"My point," Thiera elaborated, "Is that they would need access to a good factory, and someone who understood the technology well enough to direct labor."
"Great idea. I'll look into it while you 2 are doing your lessons. May I please use your telephone, Master Psyche?"
"Yes," Thiera and Binah answered in unison, even though Euryale was clearly saluting the latter. She nodded, then turned to Aroma, grabbing the pepper spray and adding, "I'll just put this in your purse."
Once Euryale was inside, Binah clapped her hands together. "Alright, let's start with the most basic principle of waterbending: The transfer of forces. Push and pull. Light and dark. Yin and yang. Or, in the case of healing, sickness and health."
"Well," Thiera began, turning to Aroma, at first unaware of Binah's hard stare, "Technically we follow the body's chi lines to find irregularities in the cytoplasm and interstitial fluid of the organ system, which we can use our waterbending to rearrange, and—in doing so—we can...sorry...."
"The technicalities are not relevant at this juncture," Binah explained, "You already know how to heal with waterbending and that won't help Aroma. What is important is the concept that, when the body is out of balance, we seek to correct that balance via our own energy. With combat, the principle is effectively reversed. We seek to disrupt the opponent's balance, and strengthen our own. Allow me to show you an example of the type of combat waterbending that you are likely to be familiar with."
Binah reached out towards the pool, a kidney-shaped hole in the polished concrete deck, about 5 by 10 feet. She curled her fingers into a fist and a similarly-sized dome of water bubbled upwards in response, erupting as she threw an overhand strike. She flung an arc of water against the wall, the splash imparting enough force to shake the glass doors. Aroma jumped slightly.
"Moves similar to that one are commonly employed by Pro-Benders. As you can see, it is very powerful. In fact, if I had a body type more like that of your friend, I could have easily cracked the stone."
"I had no idea waterbending could be so powerful," Aroma interjected with awe.
"Water carved the Great Divide," Binah noted. "But water's true strength is realized not by direct thrusts, but rather only when it flows through the path of least resistance. This allows the energy to build until the only limit is the amount of water that you possess. Furthermore, anything that enters the stream is swept up within the flow, and completely at its mercy. Thiera, why don't you help me demonstrate?"
Thiera nodded, holding her hands towards the pool. An orb of water bubbled up, which she then directed towards Binah with a palm thrust. The elder waterbender stepped to the side, directing the fluid in an orbit around her with a wave of her hands.
"This is called 'streaming the water'," she explained, lightly flicking her wrists each time the water passed near to keep it aloft, "It is a training method in which waterbenders pass liquid between one another, to get a feel for the necessary movements. But what will happen if I put a twist on the technique?"
Binah shifted her foot forward, thrusting out with both hands. Thiera tried to sidestep as her mother had done, but she had to spin with the effort of keeping the liquid from flying away. Due to her lack of control, it went flying at Binah like a cannonball. Binah simply spun, collecting a new ring of water around herself, which the water bolt joined seamlessly. When she launched this combined torrent, Thiera tried to raise a water shield from the puddles on the floor, but was blown off of her feet. Not skipping a beat, Binah clapped her hands together, so that Thiera landed in a fluffy patch of snow.
Binah stood up straight. Crossing her arms at her waist, she noted, "Thiera always preferred to be shut in her room with her books, so she never really advanced her forms past the basics. She is a brilliant Healer, but she was always adamant that the physical and spiritual benefits of waterbending would be of no use to her. Until recently, of course."
"This is all amazing," Aroma began hesitantly, looking back to Binah, "But...I can't do any of it."
Binah turned towards her. "You cannot control the water, however the movements will loosen your muscles, improve your reaction times, and even enhance your cardiovascular health. You may also see a more direct benefit if you try to imagine these whips of water as an assailant's limbs."
"Oh!" Aroma exclaimed, clapping that she finally understood, "I can push them aside!"
"Then you can strike at them to knock them over," Binah confirmed. "I would recommend aiming just slightly off of their center mass, where their body is most turned away from you. Provided that you can reach your target without overextending yourself, of course."
The film of water on the deck floor bubbled up around Thiera's feet as she made a quick spin, gathering a ring of water around her. With a trio of quick jabs, she sent shots of water flying at Aroma, who twisted and turned, each sinuous twist sending beads of sweat flying off of her fingertips.
Aroma approached Thiera with each dodge. When she was less than a meter away, Thiera thrust her arms outwards, expanding the ring of water. Aroma ducked under, leaning forward, and slid into Thiera's ankles, toppling her into the pool.
"Not bad," Binah commented from the table, in between sips of tea. "Excellent use of the defensive ring and the ankle kick."
"That wasn't a kick," Aroma groaned, pushing herself up before rubbing her head, "I tripped."
"And Thiera should have made it a point to sidestep and counter your attack," Binah continued. When Thiera bobbed up out of the water and swam towards the pool's edge, she added, "No offense, Honey. But the point is, it would be unrealistic to expect you both to master self-defense within a day. Particularly for you, Aroma—after so much inactivity, and having never trained in waterbending before, it would take years before you are flexible enough to consistently perform these maneuvers. What I am teaching you are simple techniques to use to get yourself out of dangerous situations."
Aroma stared at her feet, unsure of how to feel about that. "I see...."
Having climbed out of the pool, Thiera wrung her hair out, using her bending to fling the water back into the pool. Seeing Aroma so down, she approached, but stopped when the sliding doors opened. All eyes turned to Euryale as she came on deck.
"Well," she began, "I made some calls, and the department checked in on the Industrial Sector."
"Excellent news," Binah remarked, "We should take a break to listen to your findings. My apologies, but the tea is now cold."
"No biggie," Euryale said.
Aroma and Thiera walked over to the table, each retrieving their teacups and taking a long swig. Aroma watched Thiera's throat pulse gently in and out, and now felt water trickling through her hair. Made aware of her perspiration, she glanced down at the darkened spots around her armpits and hip joints and crossed her limbs tightly. Her gaze shot back up to Thiera, who had no such problem. Did she use waterbending to clean herself off? That's so unfair!
"Are you alright?" Thiera asked with a quizzical glance. "I could pull the water off of you if you're cold."
"I'm fine," Aroma insisted rather unconvincingly. "I just—uh—so, Euryale, what did you find?"
Euryale raised an eyebrow as all eyes again turned towards her. "Well, there are a number of abandoned factories in the city, and some of them have definitely been used recently. What's more, they're missing equipment."
"Plastic manufacturing equipment?" Aroma asked.
"Tough to say, since they've been abandoned for so long. But if you need, say, a conveyer belt, it doesn't necessarily have to come from a plastic factory. What you do need is someone who knows how to make the stuff."
"That further suggests that the Purists have an accomplice with advanced scientific knowledge," Thiera noted.
"Oh, it gets better," Euryale gloated, "Before he developed the lobotomy, Dr. Avici was doing research on plastic implants."
Thiera stroked her chin. "Hm—but that doesn't necessarily prove that he's involved with the Purists, as there are a number of plastic researchers. The field has a wide range of potential applications."
"It'll be enough to get a warrant. So tomorrow we'll see if we've got enough to book him. For now, we should head back to the apartment. It's getting late."
She nodded towards the dazzling liquid fire that was the Yue Bay sunset. Aroma and Thiera set their cups down, and Binah stood up. Clasping her hands at her waist, she bowed first to Euryale and then to Aroma, much to the latter's surprise.
"You both have my undying gratitude for protecting my daughter. I hope you will both remain by her side."
Aroma blinked. "Me? But what did I—"
She found herself cut off when Euryale waltzed over and clapped a hand on her shoulder. Aroma's knees wobbled and she was quite certain she would have fallen over if Euryale hadn't had a hold of her. Her grip was a bit snug, but not unpleasant. She even gave a quick rub as she disengaged.
"Of course," Euryale responded nonchalantly, "Any time."
Thiera, by contrast, flushed scarlet and turned away, folding her arms. "Oh, Mom, honestly!" She weaselesnaked away when Binah tried to ruffle her hair.
Binah shook the golden treads loose from her hand, continuing to dote, "Be sure to come back soon for your next lessons. And try to be careful."
"I will," Thiera promised curtly. When she turned, she found Binah in her way, staring down at her expectantly. No matter how she ducked and darted, Binah always seemed to move in the same direction. With a sigh that shifted into a giggle, Thiera relented and the pair embraced. "Bye, Mom," Thiera added, before breaking free and scampering after Euryale.
Aroma bowed to Binah in her usual manner when the Waterbending Master turned around. "Um, goodbye. It was very nice to meet you, Master Psyche. I look forward to our next lesson."
Binah nodded and Aroma hurried after the other girls, staring particularly hard at Thiera's retreating figure. She hadn't really thought about it much, but she guessed she had helped Thiera out of a few tight scrapes with the Purists. She couldn't help but feel a smirk dance across her lips as her heart swelled with pride.
"I suppose I should allow my guests change first," Thiera conceded when they topped outside of the bathroom.
"Uh, you go ahead," Aroma said quickly to Euryale, who shrugged and stepped inside. When Aroma heard the click of the lock, she promptly returned to staring at Thiera, and decided to go for it, romantic backdrop or not.
"Um—about Kuang's Cuisine—"
Thiera turned, staring at Aroma expectantly with those deep ocean blues. Aroma's thoughts suddenly turned to drowning and being eaten by sea monsters, and her carotid began to throb.
Nevertheless, she rambled on, "There was something that I wanted to tell you there—uh—something important, but—but maybe it's better if I tell you before we go. You do still want to go with me, right?"
"I don't see why not," Thiera answered. She then tilted her head and pursed her lips in a way that Aroma found too adorable for words before adding, "Why are you acting so nervous about this? We've eaten dinner together before."
She's just being coy, right? There's no way that she could not know. Aroma quickly pressed on, "I know, but what I mean is—well, you see—in this case—it's just that—" Thiera's expression only continued to grow more confused.
"Okay, it's all yours," Euryale announced, emerging from the bathroom in her dress, only to recoil from the glare that Aroma launched at her. Aroma shot past her and slammed the door—but not too loud, because that would be rude. Euryale turned to Thiera with a quizzical expression, but she just shrugged.
Aroma located the red duffle bag on the floor, fishing her street clothes out of it and fuming. I was just about to say it! She lied.
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